Assertive communication. 9 tips to avoid being labelled a bitch

by | Nov 26, 2014

How to avoid being labelled a bitch!

Bette Davis

It is generally believed that to be successful, you must be assertive and confident. However, if you are outspoken as a woman there is frequently gender blow-back for behaviour which is considered to be out of stereotype. Women are expected to be collaborative, supportive and soft after all! So what happens when something is going on in the workplace and we need to have a "Honey we need to talk" conversation with a boss or colleague?  This is when assertive communication is important. You can convey your message and avoid being labelled a bitch.

But should we care if people call us bitches?

No I don't think so. Some would say "Bitch is the new black" to quote Tina Fey. However, it can be a barrier to effective communication when the listener is blinkered by stereotype labeling. The point is to be heard. You don't have to compromise on the message simply change the structure of the message as it's being delivered.

Assertive communication to avoid being labelled a bitch

When approaching someone about behaviour that is not acceptable to you, it is always best to stick to the facts, rather than getting into attacking arguments which tend to make the listener defensive.  Here’s an example:

Scenario :  Your colleague consistently misses the deadline for the monthly departmental report which you collate.

Weak communication: "This is really annoying. You hold up the whole process every month and mess up my schedule."

Assertive Communication: " The deadline for this report is the last Friday of the month. Delays  impact the collation cycle and cause me extra work.

[Tweet "Click "like" if you've ever been called a bitch or aggressive at work!"]

Stick to the facts.  Don’t exaggerate,  attack,  label or judge; just describe:

Weak communication: “You totally mess up the work every month and it's getting on my nerves.”

Assertive Communication: “ This means I have to re-arrange my schedule to make sure the report gets in on time.”

Use “I Messages”.  Communication starting with “You” messages tend to make the receiver  defensive.  “I” messages shift the focus to you and your reactions   It also suggests that you are willing to take ownership of your reactions,  and minimises blame.

'You Message’: “You need to get on top of this !”

‘I Message’: “I  need my project to run to schedule.”

This format is really helpful

"I experience  (your reaction) when you (their behaviour])

Using factual statements neutralises the tone, which is a more constructive way of letting people know the impact of their behaviour on you. For example:

“When your work is late, I am frustrated.”

Better still:

“When you (the behaviour), then (results of their behaviour), and  my experience (your reaction).”

Here are some examples of assertive communication:

“When you miss the deadline,  I have additional work, and I feel frustrated.”

“I feel under-valued and undermined when you ignore my contribution in a meeting"

"Help me understand why this happens every month"

9 tips to avoid being labelled a bitch

  • Get rid of any emotions and into business neutral.
  • Practise your power pose for 2 minutes beforehand to reduce stress
  • Prepare what you want to say. Rehearse into your voice mail if you need to
  • Look business professional
  • Use non-judgmental language
  • Stick to the facts. Avoid labelling and judgments. Again simply state the facts.
  • Listen attentively  - Help me understand....
  • Use “I”  not “You”, messages.  These make listeners defensive
  • Ask for a meeting to discuss the situation - offer a choice of dates to focus their minds on the solution. How the situation  can be improved...

If you think a mentor could help you with these and other tricky issues contact us about our corporate mentoring program.

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.
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